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Writing is Embedded

Professional Knowledge for the Teaching of Writing, written by a committee of the NCTE Executive Committee, pinpoints 10 key issues in the effective teaching of writing. Over the next few weeks, we will unpack each one. This week, we will look at:

“Writing is embedded in complex social relationships and their appropriate languages.”

The teaching of writing should assume students will begin with the sort of language with which they are most at home and most fluent in their speech. That language may be a dialect of English, or even a different language altogether. The goal is not to leave students where they are, however, but to move them toward greater flexibility, so that they can write for wider audiences. Read more from NCTE and ReadWriteThink.org about contexts of language.

“Codeswitching: Tools of Language and Culture Transform the Dialectally Diverse Classroom” shows how to affirm and draw on the dialect diversity of students to foster the learning of Standard English. Based on insights from applied linguistics, an elementary teacher and university professor show that when African American students write “My goldfish name is Scaley” or “I have two dog and two cat,” they are not making mistakes in Standard English. Read more in this related text.

Great Expectations is rich in dialogue and in the dialect of the working class and the poor of Victorian England. What does Dickens reveal about his characters using dialect? Read more in “Dialect Detectives: Exploring Dialect in Great Expectations”.

Students explore the idea of “different Englishes” by reading Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue” and writing literacy narratives about their own use of different language for different audiences and purposes in this lesson plan from ReadWriteThink.org.

Honoring students’ home dialect is a complex task when preparing them to take state writing tests that require the use of Standard English. Working with students who had failed the test and were in danger of not receiving a diploma, the author of “Honoring Dialect and Culture: Pathways to Student Success on High-Stakes Writing Assessments” created a supportive learning environment in which students could develop linguistic and mechanical fluency.

How do you use the NCTE Professional Knowledge for the Teaching of Writing in your classroom?